Boot Fitting & How to Get a Proper Ski Boot Fit (Ep.183)

How should a ski boot actually fit? What does it feel like to have a “properly fitting” ski boot? And how do you achieve that? On GEAR:30, we’re discussing these questions and topics with Sebastian Steinbach, who is a boot fitting instructor in Europe for Masterfit University, and the owner of the freeride ski shop, Black Sheep Sports, in Munich, Germany.
Sebastian Steinbach working in Black Sheep Sports

How should a ski boot actually fit? What does it feel like to have a “properly fitting” ski boot? And how do you achieve that? We’re discussing these questions and topics with Sebastian Steinbach, who is a boot fitting instructor in Europe for Masterfit University, and the owner of the freeride ski shop, Black Sheep Sports, in Munich, Germany.

TOPICS & TIMES:

  • Blister Summit update (2:56)
  • Sebastian’s boot-fitting background (5:37)
  • Biggest Mistake When Buying Ski Boots (12:56)
  • Shell fit (16:37)
  • Alpine ski boots & running shoes (19:17)
  • Your instep (29:33)
  • Does “performance fit” always mean “tighter”? (35:29)
  • Pressure vs Pain (47:05)
  • Aftermarket liners & custom insoles (1:03:45)
  • What We’re Celebrating (1:11:49)

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26 comments on “Boot Fitting & How to Get a Proper Ski Boot Fit (Ep.183)”

  1. I finally went to a proper boot fitter last year after years of wearing ill-fitting bargain bin boots. Imagine my surprise when I realized I was a full 2 sizes smaller in my fitted boot than in what I had been used to. Great advice all around. Thanks!

  2. Question: If a boot has a good instep size and good heel lock, why does it matter if it’s a bit long? Or put another way, why does the location of your toes relative to the very end of the boot actually matter?

    • There is a personal preference component, here. Some people prefer the uniformly snug fit, that Jonathan and Sebastian touch on, throughout the entirety of the boot, including in the forefoot and toes. But having a locked heel and instep fit might be sufficient based on preference around performance. This is mostly true for people whose instep measures several centimeters longer than the length of the foot. In the case of this discrepancy, this person can upsize for instep and will often feel secure enough in the heel/instep, that extra length will go unnoticed.

  3. How does the whole initial topic of choosing the right length relate to more touring/backcountry oriented setups?
    Does it make sense to test them with a bit of walking or, being the ski stride when your skins are on different from walking on flat, it is again not a good indication of how they should feel?

    I feel 100% ok with my boots on the way down, but on the up they are excruciating

    • There is some validity to testing a stride in a touring boot, but the first question would be whether or not you have a custom insole in the boot. Typically, a well-built custom insole will retain your foot in its shortest position, while stabilizing your foot and arch, and this also prevents rolling over the ankle that can contribute to pressure points/ hot spots on the skin track. What about the boot is excruciating on the uphill, in particular?

      Also, it’s not unheard of to opt for a slightly more relaxed fit in a touring boot that you are spending a lot of uphill time on, but of course, this could translate to less of the experience you are looking for on the descent, so I would be curious to hear more about what kind of pain you are experiencing, before making a decision in one direction. Let me know if you have any further thoughts or questions!

      • Thanks for the answer Kara,

        I have a pressure point that only shows itself while skinning up, in the inward part of the foot arch, just a few cm longitudinally forward from the ankle joint. It does not show on every single day out, sometimes I feel no pain. Always same socks and same buckle setup.
        Since hearing the podcast I may have realized that my legs tend to fold inward at the ankle joint, which would put pressure in that area.
        From your comments, custom footbeds could be a starting point. Good luck to myself in finding a decent bootfitter anywhere in Italy…

  4. Can you provide an article and/or more insight on footbeds? You began to touch upon this at the end of the segment, however it seemed like this should be the first step and one of the most important steps in the fit process. What are some of the better footbeds between: stock, semi-custom and custom? What are the pair threat you have been using for 12 years?

    • A custom footbed should be discussed at the beginning of the foot assessment, when measuring the foot. A properly supported foot can be almost a full size smaller than a non-supported foot, so that discussion really needs to take place early on before the wrong size/shape boot walks out the door. As for what kind or which brand, it more so depends on the level/experience of the person making the footbed. Spend more time researching footbed makers, less time on footbed brands.

      • Agreed, but it’s kinda like saying find a good boot fitter, not a salesperson looking to sell product. Would be interested to know opinions on SureFoot custom footbeds, vs. Sidas custom or semi-custom vs. other….

        I’m assuming there are differences between footbed makers, so how do you find the good ones or know which ones are good?

        • It’s exactly like saying find a good boot-fitter, or a dentist, or a doctor, or a car mechanic, etc. for that matter. It’s more so linked to the boot-fitter in this specific case, but you could start by checking out Blister’s list of recommended shops:

          https://blisterreview.com/blister-shops

          Or you could try searching online for “best ski boot fitters” in your area. Cross-check that with your skier friends, drop a question in one of the numerous online ski forums that exist, and if you know of any racers, coaches or ski patrollers they can definitely point you in the right direction.

          A boot-fitter who is proficient in making footbeds will usually not rely on one specific brand. He/She will often have a few different options at their disposal and knowing the pros/cons of each & which feet they work well for. To say that brand-X is always the best footbed solution, is rarely accurate. But it greatly depends on the skills of the person making the footbed. Some boot-fitters/footbed makers do some pretty wild things with a custom “blank” footbed.

  5. Can you also perhaps elaborate on shell fit? I think all of us have experience of shops/retailers who are in it for sales vs. finding the best possible fit. Will a shop put you in a size of ZYZ vs. ABC based upon their on-hand stock? I’m pretty sure there are very few shops that will say, we can put you in “A” boot which provides a good fit, but you should really go for “B” boot which will provide the best fit, however we do not carry it.

    As an example, I’ve had shops say you have a “Lange” foot or insert any brand…. So, how do you know if a Lange RX shell is a better or worse fit than an Atomic Hawk Prime (both of which have similar specification…27.5 mondo, 100mm last) vs. Tecnica Mach1 MV???

    If I know my foot size (281 x 101mm and 282 x 102mm) with medium arches, and medium-high instep height how do I trust a sales guy that I should be in a Lange, Tecnica, Atomic, Salomon or other boot?

    • This question of trust – knowing who you can trust – is a big part of the reason why we started our Blister Recommended Shops list. And this issue, specifically, is one of the things we talk about with shops before we bring them on as a Recommended Shop: how willing are they to tell a customer that they don’t have a boot in stock that will work for them?

      Many shops out there simply will put customers into whatever they have in stock. Or, as in the example I mention in this very podcast episode, the sales person on the floor doesn’t even know how to help a customer figure out if a particular boot fits them. Good shops know better, and do better.

      https://blisterreview.com/blister-shops

      What we laid out in this conversation are some key areas where you – the customer – can better understand if a particular boot is working well for you: (1) is your heel locked down? (2) Are you getting pain over the instep, or an appropriate, uniform pressure? When you bend your knees, do your toes pull back and allow you to get into a smaller boot size that will likely help you achieve (1) and (2)?

      • Thanks for the response.

        Is there a way to separate shell fit from liner fit from shell + liner fit?

        For example, I recently inquired with SureFoot about their process…in a nutshell it seems like their process is: custom footbed, foam injected liner and shell. However, it seems like they “upsize” their boot size in order to get a “comfort” fit and fill in the voids with foam. I know there are many satisfied customers with their product and this is just their method.

        I was fit in another shop (Sun Valley area) in which I was fitted for my current Lange RX in 27.5 and was told that I should never be in a larger boot size (leads to confusion why SureFoot would go up a size?). At the time, I was only offered the Lange RX which I understand to be a great boot, if it fits. But is it the boot or the liner or the combo?

        I tried a pair of ZipFit Gara liners in attempt to achieve better comfort over the stock liner, however the ZipFit liner with the Lange RX combo provided a tremendous amount of pressure/pain over the midfoot and toe box area and appeared too restrictive over the OEM liner. The heel area felt great, but it seemed to eat up way to much volume in the midfoot and toe box.

        I even thought about putting SureFoot liners in my existing Lange boots, but the guys at SureFoot seemed to think this would be a really “aggressive” setup…in their words…thus more confusion in the boot fit world.

        With my current setup (OEM liner) my toes feel slammed on the outside and get a lot of pressure on the balls of my feet which causes numbness and discomfort in the midfoot and little toes. Trying a ZipFit liner made the issues worse. So I’m questioning the fit of the toebox in the Lange???

  6. Kurt have you tried a custom footbed. That has been a life saver for me. I had the worst pain and just thought that that was part of skiing and I needed to suck it up. But after getting into the right sized ski boot (went down a size) and adding a custom footbed. Success. Oh and I had been into a few SureFit shops and they all addressed boot fitting the same as you described above.

    And I agree with some of the above comments a segment on a footbeds would be a great topic! Great work Blister Crew! Or is a Squad Jonathon?

    • Hi Michael- Yes, I currently have a pair of Sidas … I guess semi-custom that were molded when I got my Lange boots. Still going down the rabbit hole to find the missing part of the “fit process” that ties it all in together. Would SureFoot footbeds be better/worse? Is there another brand that would perhaps provide a better fit???

  7. Kurt —I had the Lange RX130 and had similar issues with fifth toe pain and instep pain. They didn’t work out for me.

    I am not a boot fitter, but I’ve had many boots and currently have an amazing pair of boots that fit me with minimal work. As was mentioned in the podcast, I’d check your shell fit again with your shop. You can check it at home too. Remove the liner and stick just your footbed in the shell. Slide forward till toes just touch the front. Feel the space behind your heel. For me 1-2cm is optimal. Now center your foot in the boot, do you have wiggle room side to side? Like a few mm worth? Now stick your fingers in over your instep. This is where all my boot fitting errors have happened in the past (I have low instep/flat feet). My current boots have just a little more space than my fingers with my insole in there, so maybe 1-2cm. Previously, some of my boots had more like 3-4cm and we’re too high volume. Too much volume in this area means your foot can slide forward or upward causing toe pain, especially since we naturally curl our toes to stop from slamming forward in the boot. Personally, I think instep volume is the key to a good fitting boot. My current boots were actually a little too tight here, but that was fixed by grinding down the boot board to create a little more space.

    If the shell fit seems reasonable, or is even too tight, your shop should be able to make that boot fit even better with some punches in the toe box. If you have too much room, especially above your instep, then an injected liner like Surefoot might be a good solution, or even having your custom orthotic “posted” or built up to fill that space might work.

    If all seems lost, find a shop that guarantees the fit of the boot and start over—it’s worth it!

    • Thanks! Aaron…

      In theory, my Lange’s were fit in this fashion with a shop in Sun Valley, however they just have never felt right. I have a medium-high instep (top of midfoot sits approx. 7 cm above floor in bare feet) and feet/foot dimensions are: 281x102mm and 282x102mm.

      The toebox of the Lange’s leave no wiggle room side to side when with my orthotic in the shell. This fit seems snug. The area over the midfoot seems to be a lot more than you described, definitely more than a finger of space.

      What boots did you move into? Also, looking into forward lean angle as some guys have indicated that they have a difficult time getting into proper position with the Lange’s 12* forward/upright angle. The Lange’s seem to throw my knee a lot more forward than the 12* stated angle and feel like I have to sit down in them more…?

      • I went through a few boots after the Langes, but ended up in the 2020 version of the Tecnica Cochise. I actually had the Cochise and the tecnica mach1 LV and MV at my house. Did the shell fit stuff and it turned out the Cochise was almost perfect shape. They all have an anatomical toe box, which is great. The Cochise had a much lower instep height than even the Mach 1 LV, and that was the ticket.

        One weird thing about the Langes was that the would really deform with forward flexing and kind of crush my foot. My toes never felt right even after some punches.

  8. I’ve been using my own DIY “custom footbed” in my Drop Kicks for a few years now: strips of Gorilla Tape applied directly to the top of the boot board to form an arch support, and underneath the heel to lift it and correct my pronation. I’ll probably get real ones some day, but this has worked surprisingly well.

  9. Came here wondering about thoughts on having a custom insole in your touring boots and I see Kara addressed it a bit above. I’ve spent a bazillion hours online on ski forums, etc and never really seen this discussed much. Curious what the experts say:

    Matt+Sebastain – what’s your take from fit and design POV?

    JE+Kara+Blister crew – do you use them in your touring boots?

      • Any chance of a deeper dive into insoles? Curious what makes a footbed good vs. ok vs. bad (more visual examples). Clearly not a one size fits all solution, but perhaps can you guys talk/show examples of what may work or what doesn’t work? Flexible vs. rigid?

        Could you show why the insoles/footbeds you each use work for your foot? Can you drop in any custom orthotic, or do you need a ski specific orthotic?

        1). Super feet
        2). Sidas
        3). Boot Doc
        4). SureFoot
        5). Tread Labs
        6). Others ???

  10. Not entirely discussed here, but wanted to point out that the right fitting boot can be tough to get on (but less tough to get off because warm, etc. ) and with kids or beginners this can be a deal breaker for them to continue or even enter the sport.

    With my two oldest kids (12, 10) it is a struggle every time to get them on at the car. These are the correct fitting boots for their feet. We have found that keeping them warm helps and if Dad can help to pull the tongue out that helps too. Even I have that moment trying to squeeze my foot into the boot. When we have visitors, and I go along to the rental shop, I find myself trying to tell them, “it is worth being a bit tight right now because when you are on the mountain it is worth a snug fit.” Without this advice, they all will size up 1-2 sizes.

    Another anecdote. I have had several visitors to Colorado opt to snowboard over skiing – just because of the boot! They perceive the snowboard boot being “soft” and the walk from the car being so important that they would rather be in a different sport!

    My question to the boot company is: Can there be a design of the boot or the boot liner that will make the right fitting boot easier for on/off. Is there a way to get more people into skiing by making the best fitting boot (and probably rental boot, or entry-level flex boot…) as easy to get on as possible?

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